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MediaNews offers buyouts to 1,100 workers

MediaNews announced today that it plans to cut jobs across the board at its Bay Area newspapers due to a reduction in real estate advertising.

Nearly all of the company’s employees in the Bay Area are being given two weeks to decide if they want to apply for a buyout. If an insufficient number of employees apply, management will decide who will lose their job on March 3.

The offers are being made to 1,100 employees in the East Bay (Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune, etc.), including 300 newsroom staffers. (CORRECTION: Pete Carey at the Mercury News informs us that members of the Guild at his paper are not being offered buyouts. This item previously said they were.)

The Merc posted this story about the cuts it will make, the third round of layoffs since MediaNews acquired the paper in August 2006. The number of job cuts was not specified.

More information was available about cuts in the East Bay. According to this memo from Bay Area News Group-East Bay publisher and president John Armstrong, the buyout is being offered to all employees except him and the “operating directors” of the company.

Armstrong did not say how many jobs the company intends to eliminate or how much money it hopes to save.

“For one thing, the number can change depending on who applies and is accepted for a buy-out,” Armstrong wrote in the memo to employees. “Second, we are seeking a dollar savings, not a reduction in a specific number of jobs. But I will say this: The number of jobs that will be eliminated will be significant.

He said the cuts were forced by the slump in the real estate industry, which has resulted in less advertising.

“Almost without exception, real estate forecasters believe the Bay Area will be saddled with a housing slump for 12 to 18 months, and talk of a recession is now commonplace,” said Armstrong.

After reviewing its finances, management concluded that it had to reduce its operating expenses quickly, the story said.

“We cannot get to where we need to be without reducing the size of the work force,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong called these “very tough times of historic proportion.”

The papers are owned by California Newspapers Partnership, which is controlled by MediaNews Group, headed by Dean Singleton. MediaNews owns 54.23 percent, Stephens Group of Las Vegas has a 26.28 percent interest and Gannett has 19.49 percent.

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